After winning its first 12 games of the season, South Allegheny has emerged as one of the surprise stories in Class A girls soccer this season.
The ascension of the Gladiators to a WPIAL title contender has not been an overnight success story. Jesse MacPherson took over the program in 2010. In his first season he guided the team to an 11-win season, a third-place finish in Section 2-A and a trip to the WPIAL playoffs.
Last year it was a 12-win campaign and another third-place finish in Section 2-A and another trip to the WPIAL playoffs.
"Continuity has been key," MacPherson said. "When I first took over, we had some disappointing games -- there was some disappointment in the first year. In the second year we got a little better and this year they are excelling."
Excelling might be an understatement.
South Allegheny is 12-0 overall and it has taken firm control of Section 2-A with a 9-0 section record after defeating Charleroi Area, 2-0, Monday. The No. 4-ranked Gladiators have outscored the opposition, 65-5, through 12 games.
They had to replace two all-section starters from a year ago, including goalkeeper Lauren Peretich, who is now playing at Seton Hill University. A loss of two all-section starters could be devastating for a program such as South Allegheny, which has no junior varsity team and only has 15 players on the varsity roster this year.
But the Gladiators did return eight starters and welcomed freshman Amber Brownfield, one of the top goal scorers in the WPIAL. Playing in a 4-4-2 formation, Brownfield led her team with 17 goals through 11 games.
"I knew about her last year, I have seen her at the middle school and junior high level," MacPherson said. "Last year she played on a coed team and more than held her own. She scores a lot of goals but she also creates a lot of goals for other people."
Senior forward Shannon Wygonik and junior midfielder Audra Lewis are two of the players for whom Brownfield has been creating scoring opportunities. Wygonik and Lewis had 13 goals each going into this week's play.
"We have a lot of starters back and they have improved on every facet of the game," MacPherson said. "We are controlling the ball and playing aggressively."
The defense has been the most pleasant surprise for MacPherson. Sophomore sweeper Lindsey Cornish anchors the defense. Last season she came off the bench as a forward but has made a smooth transition to defense. Freshman Madison Lotz starts at right back, opposite of left back sophomore Kayla Komondor. Sophomore Melanie Givorski is a returning starter at stopper.
"We had a lot of turnover on defense but our new defenders have been really, really solid," MacPherson said.
Within the section South Allegheny has played close one-goal games against Bentworth and Chartiers-Houston, although the South Allegheny defense did not allow a single shot on net against Chartiers-Houston. Bentworth took the Gladiators to overtime. South Allegheny had a two-and-a-half game lead over Bentworth (6-2-1) in the section standings through Tuesday. The two teams close the regular season against each other on Oct. 16.
The midfield was an expected strength for South Allegheny. All four starters returned and all four have started since they were freshmen. Seniors Chloe McGinnis and Alyssa Ashcroft start as outside midfielders and Lewis and sophomore Nina Tyskiewicz start in the central midfield.
South Allegheny returns to section play Monday when it visits Beth-Center.hsother